Al-Sweady inquiry stopped as Iraqi families drop claims of unlawful deaths

Lawyers for relatives say they accept there is insufficient evidence anyone was killed while in custody of British troops

A year-long public inquiry into the most serious allegations made against British soldiers in Iraq came to a dramatic halt on Thursday, when lawyers representing Iraqi families withdrew their claim that the troops had killed unarmed civilians.

“Following the conclusion of the military evidence and current state of disclosure by the MoD it is our view there is insufficient material to establish that Iraqi civilians were unlawfully killed whilst in the custody of British troops at Camp Abu Naji [the British camp north of Basra] “, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) said in a statement. “There remain numerous allegations of violent and other ill-treatment of Iraqi civilians in British custody which the inquiry will have to consider”.

Patrick O’Connor QC, representing the Iraqis, told the inquiry that their concession did not mean that they did not believe that some Iraqis may have been unlawfully killed on a battlefield. Sir Thayne Forbes, chairman of the inquiry described the statement as “of very considerable significance”.

John Dickinson, of PIL, said: “From the outset the families have had the simple objective of discovering the extent of any wrongdoing and if so how it came about and who was responsible.”

The al-Sweady inquiry – named after a 19 year-old Iraqi allegedly killed by British troops – was set up after the courts castigated the MoD for not conducting its own inquiry into the allegations made after a fierce gun battle on 14 May 2004. High court judges accused it of “lamentable” behaviour and serious breaches of its duty of candour.

The gunfight was known as the battle of Danny Boy, a British checkpoint near Majar al-Kabir, north of Basra. The claims made by the Iraqi families appear to have been provoked by an order from senior British army officers that Iraqis killed in the battle should be brought back to Camp Abu Naji.

Army witnesses to the inquiry said they had never before heard of such an order. It was prompted, the inquiry heard, to discover whether a ringleader behind the massacre of six British military police officers nearby a year before was among the dead.

The bodies of the dead were taken to an Iraqi hospital the day after the battle, in which weapons ranging from high velocity rifles to fixed bayonets, were used, the inquiry heard. Many of them were in a horrific state, so horrific that the inquiry has said it will not publish photographs of them.

Some of the relatives of the dead alleged that they had been killed in the British camp. O’Connor also conceded that the detained Iraqis were not mistreated in the British camp.

The inquiry has also heard mounting evidence that some Iraqis captured after the battle were mistreated by British troops. Some soldiers admitted abusing their prisoners, some changed their evidence. The inquiry also heard that commanders of the 1 Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment obstructed attempts by the military police to conduct its …read more    

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